Wake Forest's NCAA tournament hopes this season rest with three players.
Had freshmen frontcourt players Al-Farouq Aminu, Tony Woods and Ty Walker reneged on their verbal commitments to Wake Forest after former coach Skip Prosser died suddenly July 26, 2007, the Demon Deacons would likely be considered an ACC afterthought this upcoming season.
Instead, Scouts Inc.'s sixth-ranked class stayed true to its commitment, and the players' presence means Wake Forest should compete for an NCAA tournament berth this season.
"When we committed, we didn't commit just to Coach Prosser, but to the school for an education and [to the program as] a family and [to] teammates," Aminu said. "We weren't going to leave just because the head coach died."
That kind of character is what sold Prosser on each of the recruits.
"The one thing Skip told me was how each kid came from great families and the values were in the right order," Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman said. "He described each one of them. A lesser person may have been tempted to leave [after Prosser died]. But it didn't surprise me that they all stayed. They never wavered."
Dino Gaudio, named Prosser's successor less than two weeks after Prosser's death, did have to re-recruit the players. But it didn't take much of an effort. They were on board.
"We stayed because we wanted to keep the tradition going," Walker said. "Coach Prosser's spirit is in our hearts."
Added Woods, "Coach Gaudio was with Coach Prosser for 20-something years, so we figured they had the right man for the job and we would have a lot of success."
A year ago, and still today, Gaudio said he had to ensure the three players were coming to Wake Forest.
"That was huge because this whole business is about credibility, and for us to retain those kids, then that was the first big stamp of credibility," Gaudio said.
Aminu, a 6-foot-9 small forward who is the 17th-ranked player and third-ranked small forward in the Class of 2008, could be the ACC Rookie of the Year. Walker said Aminu is the player who can face up and take a jumper but also post up in the paint.
Aminu said Walker, the 58th-ranked player and 11th-ranked center in the class, is the one who can block shots from anywhere in the paint with his 7-foot frame.
Both Walker and Aminu said that the 6-10 Woods, the 27th-ranked player and fifth-ranked center, doesn't mind dunking on anyone.
Aminu and Woods are both from Georgia and have been playing together for years. But they both say Walker, from Wilmington, N.C., first recruited them to Wake Forest after he committed. The three are all in Wake Forest's summer school this month and have just "clicked," Woods said.
"They will be three of the most talented players in the league," said Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg.
The Demon Deacons (17-13 overall, 7-9 ACC) were one of the youngest teams in the ACC last season with only one senior among their top 10 scorers. And they lacked size. James Johnson, the leading scorer from last season, doesn't play like a big man despite being 6-8; the Demon Deacons desperately needed to add a frontcourt presence. They got it with all three incoming players.
"They were missing size," Aminu said.
"They were lacking experience last year," said Walker. "We're still a young team. But we've got even more talent, and now we have juniors and seniors who know what to do in certain situations.
"Tony can bang with anyone that has collegiate strength. He's not afraid to get down and dirty. Farouq has the face-up game. I can take you out on the perimeter and I can run as a big man. We all have things we can do and we fit perfectly."
If that's the case, the Demon Deacons should be an NCAA tournament team next season.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.